the State Bar of California
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The Press-Enterprise

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

Although recreational use of marijuana was legalized in California on January 1, 2018, driving under the influence of marijuana is a crime and prosecuted accordingly under Vehicle Code section 23152, subdivision (f). This crime is usually charged as a misdemeanor offense, except where someone is seriously injured. In those instances, the crime becomes a “wobbler,” meaning that the prosecution may elect to file the case as a misdemeanor or felony, at their discretion. Marijuana DUIs are penalized in much the same way as alcohol-related DUIs, however marijuana DUI cases present some very distinct opportunities and challenges that are best explored immediately by a skilled and experienced Murrieta DUI lawyer.

As a former prosecutor for over fifteen years, Ms. Baldwin is well-versed in the many unique challenges that these cases present to prosecuting and law enforcement agencies throughout California. This is largely because unlike alcohol-related driving under the influence cases, there is no presumptive value or “legal limit” to definitively indicate whether or not someone is under the influence of marijuana for purposes of driving. This is primarily because chemical tests for THC (short for “delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol”) are not yet sufficiently reliable, and experts cannot agree amongst themselves on how much marijuana is “too much” for purposes of driving under the influence cases.

In order to prove impairment in marijuana DUI cases, prosecutors rely heavily upon the arresting officer’s description of what they believe are “objective indicators of impairment.” This includes, but is not limited to, the officer’s descriptions of the defendant’s driving pattern, any of his/her statements to the police, the arresting officer’s subjective evaluation of field sobriety test performance, the presence of marijuana or other drug-related paraphernalia found on or around his/her person, and other physical symptoms of intoxication, including dilated pupils, odor of marijuana on the person, bloodshot, watery eyes, and slowed reaction time. What’s important to know about these “objective indicators” is that they really aren’t that objective after all. A skilled defense attorney knows how to break down the officer’s observations and show how his or her interpretation of the evidence is actually quite subjective and only being used to support one conclusion – often at the expense of considering other possible explanations and scenarios.

The most commonly used chemical test in a driving under the influence of marijuana case involves taking a blood sample, and then specifically testing that sample in a laboratory for the presence of THC. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. However, it is important to understand that you can still be criminally charged with driving under the influence of marijuana if you refuse to submit to a chemical test and even where the arresting officer never offered you the chance to submit to a chemical test in the first place.

Even in marijuana DUI cases where there is a chemical test involved, the results of these blood tests typically provide little guidance with respect to when marijuana was ingested, how much was consumed, and/or whether someone was ultimately impaired by it at a specific moment in time. Unlike alcohol, it is important to know that THC is not metabolized at a steady rate amongst all individuals. This is especially true when it is ingested by way of smoking and when considered in light of how frequently or infrequently any given person may be accustomed to ingesting marijuana. Additionally, different strands of marijuana will vary widely in terms of their respective THC content. Many strands are low in THC content, but higher in CBD (cannabidiol) content, which is the non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana. Many of the lower THC/higher CBD-content strains are typically found in what is commonly referred to as “medical-grade” marijuana. These strands are generally preferred by those consumers seeking various types of pain relief without the side effect of altered consciousness. A skilled defense attorney knows that these and other related factors frequently present real problems of proof for the prosecution in driving under the influence of marijuana cases, and understands that this can be advantageous in coming to a favorable resolution in your case.

An even bigger problem for the prosecution in these types of cases is the fact that THC is fat soluble, meaning that once it is ingested, it is then stored in the body’s fatty tissues for up to one month, or even longer in some cases. As a result, there are instances where a blood test for THC will come back positive, even if the person has not recently smoked or consumed marijuana. Because of the many fallibilities associated with chemical tests involving driving under the influence of marijuana, there are a whole host of potential defenses that may be available to you, depending on the circumstances of your case.

If you have already been charged or anticipate being charged with a marijuana DUI in the Murrieta area, contact your Murrieta DUI lawyer at the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC for your free, confidential case consultation now. Your future and your freedom deserve to be taken seriously by an experienced attorney who is committed to quality representation and compassionate advocacy, every step of the way.

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